This Cioppino Recipe is a comforting San Franciscan seafood stew filled with shrimp, clams, mussels, white fish, and crab legs simmered in a rich broth made from tomatoes, white wine, and fish stock. A family favorite, enjoy this easy and delicious one-pot seafood stew for a special weeknight or holiday meal.
San Francisco Cioppino Recipe
If you’ve never tried Cioppino then you are in for a delicious surprise. The best way to describe sitting down to a bowl of this seafood stew is that it is like sitting down to a happy, warm, comforting memory.
Now, before I dive into everything you need to know about how to make this Cioppino Recipe, I want to give you a little piece of advice that is totally not traditional to this beloved seafood recipe. Ready for it? Add mashed potatoes. Yes, you guys. Serve your big pot of amazing seafood deliciousness with warm buttery mashed potatoes. Literally be the best thing you will ever eat.
What is Cioppino?
Cioppino is an Italian-American dish originating in the 1880s from San Francisco. Traditionally, Cioppino would have been prepared with whatever had been caught that day. In San Francisco, this would have meant Dungeness crab, shrimp, scallops, squid, mussels, and any fish that would have been caught in the Pacific ocean. The seafood is then combined with a deeply flavorful broth made from tomatoes and white wine.
Its name, Cioppino, comes from the word “ciuppin“, the name of a soup with similar flavors but prepared with less tomato and with Mediterranean seafood from Liguria, Italy.
What are the ingredients in Cioppino?
For the full list and amounts of ingredients, scroll down to the recipe card at the bottom of the page.
- Olive oil – To cook the vegetables.
- Vegetables – I always add onions, shallots, and red bell pepper.
- Garlic – Fresh garlic is always recommended as it will give the best flavor.
- Dried Italian seasoning – This magical seasoning combination is all you need (aside from salt and pepper) to really draw out the flavors in this seafood stew.
- Red chili flakes – The red chili flakes are optional, but a little sprinkle gives it a little heat. If you’re sensitive to spicy food, feel free to leave it out.
- Tomato paste – A little concentrated tomato paste will help intensify the flavor of the broth.
- White wine – Ah, white wine! The white wine actually plays a HUGE role in the overall flavor of this soup. Your best bet is to use a dry, crisp white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.
- Canned crushed tomatoes – Needed to help form the base of the broth.
- Bay leaf – for flavor. Just be sure to remove before serving as it’s not edible.
- Clam juice or fish broth – For some of you, it may be the first time you’ve ever heard of buying clam juice or fish broth. A somewhat unusual ingredient, they add amazing depth and flavor that water or chicken broth can’t give. If you can’t find them in your local market, you can buy them online.
- Catch of the day (details below) – all the seafood!
What seafood would be added to authentic Cioppino?
Originating in San Francisco, it makes sense that classic, authentic Cioppino recipes contain fish and seafood from the Pacific Ocean. This often included-
- Dungeness crab
- Any fish found in the Pacific- halibut is a popular choice.
I tried to keep this recipe as authentic as possible, but you’ll notice that I added some salmon to the pot. While salmon is also found in the Pacific, it isn’t as “popular” given that it isn’t a white fish.
What is the Difference Between Cioppino and Bouillabaisse
The differences between Cioppino and Bouillabaisse aren’t huge, but they’re worth noting-
- Cioppino. Cioppino is made with a rich and comforting tomato-based broth made with local “catch of the day” fish and seafood native off the West Coast of California. Cioppino contains loads of seafood often served in the shell.
- Bouillabaisse. Bouillabaisse is a hearty French stew, much like Cioppino, but is unique in that it contains saffron. The broth, while it contains some tomatoes, is not considered a true tomato-based broth. Other defining ingredients include white wine, potatoes, fennel, orange peel, and scorpion fish. Since scorpion fish is native to Provence, France, some say that true Bouillabaisse is only made in this particular location.
How to make Cioppino
Making Cioppino is super easy. First, you’ll prepare the soup base which is made with a mix of vegetables, loads of tomatoes, white wine, and either fish or clam broth.
Not sure where to find fish and clam broth? You can find each of these pantry essentials at most major supermarkets in the canned tuna or seafood section. I don’t have a preference, so in the case of this recipe, I used one can of each clam and fish stock.
Step one. Cook the vegetables (mirepoix).
Sauté the onions and shallots in olive oil over medium-low heat. You don’t really want to scorch or brown them, but instead, cook them slowly so that they’re nice and soft- about 5 minutes or so. You’ll then add the diced bell pepper and continue to cook, for an additional 5 minutes.
Step two. Wine and aromatics.
Next comes the garlic, tomato paste, and finally the white wine. You really want each of these ingredients in your recipe (especially the wine), so unless you can’t have them for dietary reasons, I don’t recommend skipping them over. First, add the garlic and sauté for a minute or so. Mix them up really well with the onions and shallots before adding the herbs and spices – oregano, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper. Add the tomato paste. You’ll have to really mix it around to get it all mixed up with the onions. Stir continuously for 1-2 minutes before adding the wine…yes, all the wine. At least two cups.
Step 3. Add lots of tomatoes.
Tomatoes time. Increase heat to high. Bring the wine to a simmer and add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, and fish/clam broth. Mix it all together, bring to a low boil, and cover. Simmer for approximately 25 minutes.
Here, at this point, you have your Cioppino stock. If you want to freeze it, do so now.
Step 4. Add all your favorite seafood
Once the Cioppino stock has been made, you can start adding any and all the seafood you want. I started with the clams and mussels. Add them to the pot, cover, and allow them to cook until shells have opened (approximately 5-10 minutes. Next, add the calamari and white fish, cooking for 5 minutes. Add the scallops and the shrimp and cover. Cook for approximately 5-10 minutes. Finally, add the crab legs. Since these are already cooked, you’ll only need to cook until they are heated through.
What to serve with Cioppino?
Traditionally, Cioppino is always served with crunchy hunks of bread. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with bread. I love bread. But there is something better- Mashed Potatoes.
Seriously, the creamy mashed potatoes combined with the rich tomato wine broth is the most magical combination. Buttery, creamy, salty, savory. So many winning flavors.
If I am serving this to a large group, I will often serve with a large green salad.
However, the best part about this recipe is that it is a meal in itself. Simply grab a bowl and dig in!
Tips and Tricks
- This is not a budget-friendly recipe. That said, it makes a huge pot of stew and will easily feed my husband and me for at least 4 nights. Save a few dollars and skip the fresh crab legs and jumbo scallops.
- Try to purchase sustainably caught seafood. If you’re unsure of the difference, ask your local fishmonger.
- Fresh seafood will result in the best tasting seafood stew. If something doesn’t look fresh, swap with something else.
- Traditional Cioppino is served with the crab legs and other seafood in their shells. Serve with a large collecting bowl for all the shells, plenty of napkins, and have fun!
- If you prefer not to cook with white wine, substitute with additional fish broth or clam juice.
- Not sure where to find fish and clam broth? You can find each of these pantry essentials at most major supermarkets in the canned tuna or seafood section. I don’t have a preference, so for today, I used one can of each clam and fish stock. You may also substitute chicken or vegetable broth if needed.
Leftovers and Storage
Are leftovers good the next day?
Yes! At least in my personal opinion. In fact, I find that cioppino tastes better the next day, or even two days later.
Some people will argue otherwise since fish, especially shrimp, tends to toughen up the longer it is cooked. Now, in the case of shrimp, this is most definitely true, but I find that the overall flavor only gets better two, even three days later.
For best results, I recommend only adding what you plan to eat right away, at least when it comes to the shrimp and calamari. However, everything else? The fish, scallops, clams, mussels – all good. Yes, the fish will flake apart, but that’s part of what makes the overall flavor of the broth that much richer the next day.
Always reheat to a boil before serving and enjoy within 4 days.
Can you freeze leftover Cioppino?
If you want to freeze Cioppino, I highly recommend doing so before the addition of any seafood. Seafood that has been frozen, then cooked, then frozen, and then cooked again is not at its prime.
So, freeze this recipe? Yes! But only freeze the Cioppino stock/broth without any of the added seafood.
More Stew Recipes,
- Instant Pot Beef Stew Recipe
- Instant Pot Pork Green Chili Stew
- Mexican Stewed Shrimp (Shrimp Camarones)
- Persian Pomegranate and Walnut Stew (Khoresht Fesenjan)
- Easy 30 Minute Shrimp and Fish Stew
- Norwegian Salt Cod Stew (Bacalao)
If you try cooking this Cioppino Recipe, please leave me a comment and let me know! I always love to hear your thoughts.
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Cioppino Recipe (Seafood Stew)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 large onion (chopped)
- 3 shallots (chopped)
- 2 red bell peppers (seeded and chopped)
- 6 large cloves of garlic (chopped)
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp dry red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 2 cups white wine
- 28 oz canned crushed tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- 30 oz clam juice or fish broth
- 1 lbs mussels (scrubbed, debearded)
- 1.5 lbs clams (scrubbed)
- 1/2 pound calamari
- 1.5 lbs halibut (or other firm white fish)
- 1 lb salmon
- 1/2 lb scallops
- 1 lb uncooked large shrimp (peeled and deveined)
- 1 lb king crab legs
- Fresh parsley (chopped)
- Add the olive oil to a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and shallots and mix well to combine. Sauté for approximately 5 minutes, or until the onions start to soften and turn translucent. Stir often. Add the diced bell pepper to the onion and continue to cook for 4-6 minutes, stirring often.
- Add the garlic and sauté, stirring continuously, for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the dried oregano, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper and mix well to combine. Mix the tomato paste with the cooked onions, mixing well to combine and stirring constantly to prevent burning. Allow the tomato paste to cook with the onions for 1-2 minutes before adding the white wine.
- Increase heat to high. Add the crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, and fish/clam broth. Mix well and bring to a low boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for approximately 25 minutes.
- Add the clams and mussels to the pot, cover, and cook until the clams and mussels begin to open (approximately 5-10 minutes). Discard any clams and mussels that do not open. Add the calamari and fish and cook for 5 minutes, gently mixing to combine. Next, add the scallops and shrimp, and cook, covered, for 5-10 minutes. Last, but not least, add the crab legs to the pot and cook for 5 minutes, or until heated through.
- Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and fresh parmesan cheese and serve with crunchy toasted buttery bread, or, mashed potatoes (not traditional, but amazing!) Enjoy!
- If you would like to freeze Cioppino, I recommend freezing the broth before adding any fish or seafood.
- This recipe stores well in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
- If you prefer not to cook with white wine, substitute with additional fish broth or clam juice.
- Not sure where to find fish and clam broth? You can find each of these pantry essentials at most major supermarkets in the canned tuna or seafood section. I don't have a preference, so in the case of this Cioppino Recipe, I used one can of each clam and fish stock. You may also substitute with chicken or vegetable broth if needed.
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.)